Millions were watching – the tribute was being beamed around the world free of charge – as Smokey Robinson took to the stage to begin proceedings.
In the venue 20,000 fans – including 9,000 of Michael's friends and family – hung on the singer's every word as he read out notes of condolence from Nelson Mandela, and Diana Ross, who didn't attend the tribute.
"I want you to know that even though I am not there at the Staples Centre I am there in my heart, the note said. "Michael was a personal love of mine, a treasured part of my world, part of the fabric of my life in a way that I can't seem to find words to express.
"Michael wanted me to be there for his children and I will be there if they ever need me. I hope today brings closure for all those who loved him."
An audio problem halted proceedings at that point, but after a delay of roughly 20 minutes a gospel choir took to the stage and began singing as Michael's golden casket - laden with red roses - was brought up to the stage.
Many of the exact arrangements for the tribute had been shrouded in mystery. It was unclear just how long the tribute would last, or who exactly would be speaking or performing.
The first to perform was Mariah Carey, who gave a moving rendition of Michael's hit I'll Be There with as childhood pictures of the singer with The Jackson Five were displayed on giant screens behind them.
Other performers who followed included Lionel Richie, Usher and Stevie Wonder.
Queen Latifah gave the fist eulogy, "representing the fans," she said. "I loved him all my life, said the singer and actress. One the first records me and my brother ever bought was Dancing Machine. Michael was the biggest star on earth."